The Memphis soul-jazz trio's official bio describes The City Champs like this: "The City Champs are the latest in a long lineage of Memphis musicians to grab the mantle of funky, soul-jazz instrumentals pioneered by acts like Booker T & The MGs, Willie Mitchell and the Bar-Kays." True enough.
This trio includes guitarist Joe Restivo (The Grip & The Memphis Hang), keyboardist Al Gamble (Gamble Brothers Band & The Grip) and drummer George Sluppick (Chris Robinson Brotherhood & MOFRO). The Set Up, recorded at Electraphonic Recording Studios, counts as the band's second studio release. These musicians have recorded and performed live dates with musicians such as Rufus Thomas, Alex Chilton, William Bell, Syl Johnson and The Memphis Horns. A collection of seasoned proffessionals, indeed...
Recently, The City Champs taped a travel segemnt for MSN.com. The group also took part in the filming of a new Memphis music documentary produced by the North Mississippi Allstars' Cody Dickinson and Martin Shore. The Set Up contains all original compositions except for one song.
The title track opens The Set Up. As the official bio states, a Booker T & The MGs influence sounds obvious, and this number pays homage to that legendary Memphis group. Yet, from the start--Restivo, Gamble and Sluppick stamp their own individuality on every note. This is not a nostalgia act by any means.
The tight "Drippy" demonstrates the group's ability to visit jazz territory while traveling in a soul vehicle. "Ricky's Rant", a moody number, exudes a hypnotic groove that serves as a fine musical backdrop to just about any situation. The horn-laced "Crump St." acts like a musical sedative, and counts as one of this collection's finest tunes.
Restivo's mercurial guitar navigates "Chinatown". This song drifts into the air like blue smoke rings floating in some opium den. "Rigamarole" conjures a jazz spirit, but Gamble's organ provides gospel roots to the number. Restivo's guitar on "Local Jones" returns to a warm, Steve Cropper tone during these few minutes.
"Theme From Mad Men" stands as the only track The City Champs didn't write, but it is another stalking monument to the group's diversity. The sultry "Comanche" closes The Set Up with a glorious soundtrack you can almost hear Otis Redding singing over. The City Champs command respect...